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open mind, empty stomach

travel, food, and fun

Kuching, the Cat City, was my gateway from Singapore to Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo. Located on the northwest of the island, Kuching is a common port of arrival for visitors to Borneo.

Yet again, I was able to find a great CouchSurfing host. Elly already had an American Surfer named Jay staying with her when I arrived, but had no problem taking in another. The other Jay has been teaching English in Saigon for the last 3 years and was spending a few weeks in Borneo. The morning after I arrived Jay and I went to Bako National Park for 2 days and 1 night.

Bako National Park can only be accessed by boat and the ferry terminal is a 30 minute drive from Kuching. The cost of the boat is 90 ringgit ($30) return for up to four people. The park entry fee is 15 ringgit and a dorm room costs 15 ringgit per night.

The park is best known for its proboscis or “Dutch” monkeys. There are a range of hiking options at the park, but you can see the famous monkeys after just a short walk from the park center. The park center is inhabited by some “naughty” macaques and wild pigs that have interesting facial hair that makes them resemble American Civil War generals.

Jay and I arrived in the early afternoon and had time to hike to Tanjung Rhu Beach and back. The hike took about four hours and went through some pretty jungle and by the extremely underwhelming Tajor Waterfall. The water at the beach was extremely murky and bathwater-warm. The slope of the ground under the water was very gentle and you have to walk quite a ways out to reach waist-level. Once we made it to that point, we noticed a jellyfish. Then another. After a very cautious walk back, we made it to dry land un-stung.

Night walks are offered for 10 ringgit per person. Our walk lasted a little over 90 minutes and we saw green vipers, brown tree snakes, big centipedes, fireflies, a tarantula looking spider, a scorpion, and a stick bug. You can skip the organized walk and easily find all of those creatures yourself with a flashlight.

The last boat back to civilization leaves at 4pm and my traveling companion didn’t want to attempt either of the two longest walks at Bako. Instead, we opted for the “Big Circle.” The first half of the hike was on the same trail we had walked the day before, but instead of heading north to the beach, it turned south to start the loop. The walk was nice and going clockwise as we had definitely made it easier with the changes in elevation; the second half of the circle looks like it would be no fun to go up.

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are offered at the Park’s restaurant. The food was not very good. The medley of frozen corn, peas, and carrots appeared in seemingly every noodle and rice dish. The prices were reasonably cheap considering the remote location. Dinner was 10-12 ringgit.

Bako National Park was good, but not great. With the accommodations and amenities offered, you certainly aren’t roughing it, but you can still see some decent jungle and go on some nice walks. It’s not a destination I would plan my schedule around, but is worth seeing if you are in the area.

When Elly picked us up from the ferry terminal, she was a third Surfer who was also American, but not a Jay. Kevin works in the Yunan province of China as a tour guide and is fluent in Mandarin. The four of us spent the next couple days together in Kuching.

There isn’t much going on in Kuching. The Sarawak river runs through the center of town and is quite lovely when lit up at night. Elly took us on a one hour drive to Damai Beach. The water was very murky and the sand was far from golden. The Beach does host an annual Rainforest Music Festival each July that is supposed to be incredible.

Kuching has a few open air markets and plenty of restaurants. Other than some good laksa, the food wasn’t anything special. Elly made us a few dinners that were tasty and we all chowed down on some durian.

The city itself is not a place I’d want to spend a great deal of time, but is a good starting point for Sarawak and close to a few national parks and other points of interest.

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